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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/yjmw-t210

invited talk

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

The role of Forensic Anthropology to document the osteology of poverty in Detroit, Michigan in the 21st Century


forensic anthropology



As applied disciplines dealing with some of the most marginalized people in our society, forensic anthropologists have the potential to shed light on important and persistent social issues that we face today. Over the last several decades, forensic anthropologists have successfully perused research agendas primarily focused on the development of individual biological profiles (e.g., sex, age, ancestry), time since death, recovery, and identification. Few forensic anthropologists, however, have taken a step back from their lab bench to write about how and why people become forensic cases or place their work in a larger theoretical context. Thus, this session challenges forensic anthropologists to consider how we can use our toolkit and databases to address larger social issues and quandaries that we face in a world where some are spared from becoming forensic anthropology cases and others are not. As witnesses to violence, crimes against humanity, and the embodied consequences of structural violence, we have the opportunity•and arguably, the responsibility•to transcend the traditional medico-legal confines of our small sub-discipline, by synthesizing forensic anthropology casework into theoretically grounded social science with potentially transformative potential. As ethical researchers, we must embrace our responsibility to reveal these truths, even if they go against the grain of mainstream forensic anthropology research. As anthropologists, we must go beyond case-specific description and analysis to understand what our work reveals about humanity. Anecdotally, many forensic anthropologists probably have noticed certain demographic trends and speculated about the larger meaning, but statistics are hard to come by. For example, Indigenous, black, and brown bodies find their way into forensic anthropology casework in North America at disproportionally higher rates compared to white bodies. However, they are also far less likely to participate in body donation programs that contribute to the development of forensic anthropology methods used to determine biological profile and which make it harder to positively identify a non-white people using forensic anthropology methods. Thus, the colonial specters of racism and socio-economic inequality not only increased the mortality rate of marginalized groups•hastening their lives•they continue to haunt them in death. How might forensic anthropologists advocate for the often anonymous people who become forensic anthropology cases? Moreover, women of color as well as transgender individuals contribute to forensic anthropology casework and missing persons databanks in North America at higher rates than these demographics exist in the general population. Can increased awareness of this reality bring attention to the crises of femicide and transgender-directed violence? Can we move past binary sex determinations to recognize the embodied experience of people with trans and non-binary gender identities? Verification of anecdotal observations with statistical evidence as well as osteobiographies will be an important step forward for forensic anthropologists becoming more than just expert technicians and witnesses, but advocates for the marginalized, persecuted, and voiceless.


Transcript English (automatic)

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